Needles vs. lasers

February 14, 2020
 by Paul McGowan

Sometimes it’s instructive to pull our view of the world back and take a broader look. For example, a 30,000 foot view of music reproduction’s two core methods: vinyl and CD, might look very different than our normal image.

For example, when I don’t put much thought into comparing differences between vinyl and CD, I consider them different yet not that different. Both make music, both are wonderful mediums, each has its upsides and downsides. A simplistic view that ignores fundamentals.

A more callous look from afar would be very different indeed. One technology is almost entirely mechanical, relying upon a needle wiggling in a plastic groove to generate a tiny electrical voltage vs. a laser beam scanning an impossibly microscopic mirror to extract ones and zeros. The two technologies couldn’t be further apart, yet each is expected to produce similar results.

For me, it’s helpful when listening to the two disparate sources to place them in different categories and adjust my expectations accordingly. I don’t hope for one to mirror the other. I experience vinyl in a very different way than I do digital.

The next time someone asks which do you prefer best, it might make sense for a moment’s pause to consider that it’s hard to compare apples to oranges.

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